Sunday, December 14, 2014

'The Gay Bride' Was Carole Lombard's Niche

Daniel (Sam Hardy): Mary, how about a little kiss?

Mary (Carole Lombard): Mr. Dingle, you forget I'm in mourning!

Daniel: What's that got to do with it?

Mary: Well, how would you feel if you were dead, and I kissed somebody else?

"The Gay Bride," a screwball comedy that made its debut on this date in 1934, wasn't the best movie Carole Lombard ever made. In fact, I have heard that she regarded it as her worst movie.

But Carole Lombard made it better than it would have been with anyone else playing her role. She played a chorus girl who was determined to marry a man of considerable means. Then as now, money was at the top of many a girl's list of desirable qualities in a potential mate.

(Interesting trivia point here: Lombard's future real–life husband, Clark Gable, was considered for the male lead.)

There was an earthy quality to Lombard's performances — perfect for screwball comedies — in the early to mid–'30s that disappeared a few years later when she appears to have been aiming for Oscar's recognition that she was an actress of substance. Her characters were blunt in their approaches to their lives. They knew what they wanted, and they weren't bashful about going for it.

Even if the odds were against them.

I guess that was how Lombard approached her own life.

Lombard almost certainly had her life under better control than the character she played in "The Gay Bride." I mean, even if she neglected her own life for extended periods, she would still have things under better control than Mary the chorus girl. Men were dying around her, right and left.

Of course, I guess it didn't help that she was engaged to a rum–running gangster whose livelihood was threatened by the repeal of Prohibition — and she had been warned that that type didn't tend to have long lives.

As I say, Lombard is said to have considered it her worst movie. I don't really think it was her worst, but it was a lot closer to her worst than to her best.

It wasn't a problem with the story. In general, it was a pretty good story, but the movie was indecisive. It couldn't commit to being a screwball comedy, which is how it was perceived at the time and how it is still seen today, or quasi–drama so it tried to walk a tightrope between the two and never really managed to become either.

Still, it is pretty clear when you watch "The Gay Bride" today that Lombard really was meant for screwball comedy. She tried to get more dramatic roles later in her career when she was trying to get Oscar to legitimize her skill as an actress — but it was her skill at screwball comedy that made her the highest–paid actress in Hollywood in the late 1930s.

And it is for that skill that she is mostly remembered today.